This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. There comes a point in time when you realize that you just can’t keep writing off your expenses to the point that you’re constantly taking a loss. Or at least you can’t do that and continue to call what you’re doing a ‘business’–the IRS won’t allow that.
Sure, you can pad your earned income by reporting fewer and fewer expenses, but what happens when your [reported] expenses are next to nothing, but you’re still in the hole?
One of the toughest decisions you have to make is when to start saying “No” to gigs. I reached that point about three years ago. By then I was constantly touring around the country with a multi-Grammy Award winning musician as part of his pick-up band. This while negotiating playing with two other ensembles on a semi-regular or regular basis. I also did odds and ends freelancing gigs.
I had dropped from an all time high of around 200 shows a year down to closer to 150. These days, since I have a relatively heavy teaching schedule (both private lessons at the local university as well as cello sectional coachings with a number of local school orchestras and youth symphonies) and my gigging schedule is much closer to 100 shows a year for the past couple of years.
This is actually a good thing, back in 2008 while I was touring heavily, I often had a choice amongst what gigs I could or should take. My policy then was to take the first offer and stick with it even if the return on a potential future gig might be much better.
Now, I am much more selective about what engagements I take and will often wait before committing to an engagement and in some cases commit to an engagement that I know will be coming up without having formally spoken to anyone about said engagement. I did some of this back in 2008 while on the road, but it’s almost always the norm for me now to either wait before committing or pencil in a potential slot.
Back in 2008 I was making more money than I had ever made in a year than the previous four years of music-making. Not tying myself constantly to projects with small returns since I had the option of other engagements meant that I could start engaging in strategic scheduling. This year, as it’s only about a third of the way done, I’ve already made just about as much as I did back in 2008–and there’s still 2/3rds of the year to go!
At this rate, I will have tripled my income while not having to be on the road for long stretches of time (which was the best way to increase the revenue when touring with a regular and set contractual engagement) meaning that my expenses are way down, and my earned revenue is way up! Of course I’m not likely to triple my gross, but I could very easily triple my net.
There are a fascinating set of case studies reported by Artist Revenue Streams (I blogged about their study on Branding in a previous post)–the studies followed the career trajectories of five musicians: Jazz-Bandleader-Composer, Indie Rock Composer-Performer, Jazz Sideman-Bandleader, Professional Orchestra Player, and a Contemporary Chamber Ensemble.
What’s most remarkable about these studies is the trajectory of the musician’s careers and revenue. All were analyzed from 2001 to 2011, and all very nearly have the same income trajectories–starting from practically next to nothing and growing into a self-sustaining living amount (take a look at each of the studies linked in the above link). While the details of their financial pictures can be significantly different, for the most part the trajectories are the same, and the single most significant source of income for all of them is performing–but if you look at the number of gigs performed, in many cases there aren’t nearly as many as one would think would be necessary to make a living (if we assume as the pieces say that each of them derive all their income from music, thus are making a living with not extra side-jobs).
The summary states that:
Also, each artist seems to be at a place in their career where they have built some momentum. In every case, these artists’ gross revenue in the most recent year was higher than previous years. Some likely reasons include:
Similar career patterns.They have been working professionally since around 2000, and have now established themselves as professionals in their field. The data suggest that, even though they work in different genres, career arcs for performers can share some similarities.
We also suspect that there is some self-selection bias at work; it’s possible that artists who are organized and confident about their financial picture would be more likely to participate in this case study process, which can take months and involves detailed assessments of their accounting.
And my career arc is similar though I didn’t officially start active gigging again until 2004 so maybe in a couple of years things will be different and even better. There was little economic growth for me up until 2008, then by Diversifying my Performance Skills Portfolio, and by implementing Strategic Gigging, I’ve managed to have nearly exponential growth in the past four years which has propelled me from operating in the red to operating now well into the black.
Just because you are offered a gig, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. you need to weigh the relative benefits of the gig against possibly more profitable future offers. Simply filling up your schedule with gigs is nearly as useless as filling up a show with music. You have to know what music to play, and what music not to play to have an effective show/performance. Similarly you have to know what gig to take and what gig not to take to have an effective career in music.